Economic recovery, transit, affordable core on top of mind for Edmonton voters
Three Edmontonians from a panel discussion share their top concerns with CBC News
A post-pandemic economic recovery, improving public transit and creating more affordable core neighbourhoods are among the leading issues on the minds of Edmontonians heading to the polls this fall.
A panel of citizens shared these and many views last week with CBC Edmonton in a series of focus group discussions hosted by pollster Janet Brown ahead of the municipal election on Oct. 18.
For Ken Regan, a former CEO of CKUA radio in Edmonton, the economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic is front and centre.
Now retired and living in Old Strathcona, Regan said the economy, social well-being and quality of life are all intertwined.
"I've got a young son and I really feel for, in particular, for young people these days — the world is a hard place," he said. "And it's important for young people to have opportunity."
A healthy economy allows people to find decent jobs and work that is fulfilling, Regan said.
"So economic recovery can provide that for people and it allows people to build a life and when people build a life, they're vested in their community."
Regan said he'd like to see the next council invest and support various industries, including film and arts, gaming and green technology, that will help create new jobs.
Alice Johnston, a resident in the north-end neighbourhood of Beaumaris and community volunteer, says better public transit will improve quality of life as a whole.
"It's good for the economy, it's good for the air, it's good for people."
Amelia Leung, a self-employed accountant, agrees the city needs far better public transit than what exists now and what is currently under construction.
The south-side resident is a harsh critic of the current council for approving the low-floor design of the Valley Line Southeast LRT, currently under construction.
"This is honestly executed incredibly poorly," she said. "They should have raised it and just kept it out of the general traffic."
The 13-kilometre line has only one elevated station and 11 street-level stops, which will inevitably lead to more traffic congestion, she argues.
The crossing in Bonnie Doon at Whyte Avenue, she believes, will be especially congested as it will remain a major commuter route with trains going right through the intersection.
She pointed to the Metro Line from downtown to the NAIT campus, built in a similar street-level design, as an example of frustration for many commuters.
"This is supposed to be environmentally friendly, but if you go to NAIT and you're waiting for a train to cross in front of the McDonald's and Royal Alexandra Hospital, you can turn off your car and just sit there for 15 minutes."
And often drivers don't turn their vehicles off, she said.
"Thirty people in the train — if you're generous — pass on the train and there's 50 cars in each direction idling."
Regan disagrees with Leung about the LRT. He lauds outgoing Mayor Don Iveson and council for making a decision to commit to expanding transit.
"You can quibble about the design of the cars or the way the rails are set up and all of that but the fact is we need it and fortunately, council had the courage to get the work in place."
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Regan said some people may not realize its usefulness now, but it's necessary to expand the LRT and public transit to accommodate a projected population of two million people.
"There are no perfect solutions," Regan said. "But I think in 40 years' time, the people of Edmonton are going to be very grateful for this council, this previous council's work to ensure that light rail transit and public transit was developed with the future in mind."
Denser, more affordable
All three agree that curbing urban sprawl and creating more affordable housing and denser neighbourhoods are key to cutting down the costs of supporting more suburbs.
Johnston said the city should encourage construction of more townhouses, four- and eight-plexes, and retrofitting older homes in core neighbourhoods instead of building newer ones.
"I think we have to get rid of the idea of, 'Continue to build out, continue to build out.' We're nearly at the airport now," she said. "Now they're starting to spread west as far as they can, east as far as they can."
Johnston suggested expanding the suburbs further adds the need for services to the city's budget.
"How many more fire halls, how many police departments do we need to keep adding ... schools, hospitals? It gets too expensive."
Leung said the next city council needs to be more serious about making it economical for responsible builders to build infill, instead of adding red tape like expensive building permits.
"If the city is saying, 'We want people to fill in the core,' then you need to back that up and quit saying, 'We're going to add additional costs.'"